Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poetic Rambling #1

I remember the day we met,
Though I bet you dont.

A lot has happened
Since that day, long ago.
But not really so long.

I think of you and I wonder,
About you and what you know,
That which you believe is true,
That which you think impossible.

And I wonder...
What do you think of me?

My own personal L.A. Story, Conclusion

Prior to this vacation, my family had been united with a "long-lost cousin" who had reached out to my grandfather before his passing in order to get to know his branch of the family tree, and share what information she had gathered. I remember hearing about this woman at the time, but since she lived in California, I didnt have any interaction with her. Then along came Facebook. Sister had met our cousin a few times as they lived an hour apart and when Cousin joined Facebook, Sister suggested her as a friend to our side of the family. I immediately added her to my friend list as I thought she would be an interesting person to get to know - and truly, how often does one get to meet a long-lost cousin?

Over the past months, I've become friendly with Cousin through Facebook, and when I made plans to visit Sister in L.A. I thought it would be fun to finally meet face-to-face. I'll spare you the details of the onorous drive from L.A. to Long Beach, where Cosmo routed me through Lynwood and Compton ('nuff said), but even though I was an hour late for lunch, Cousin met me outside the Belmont Brewery with open arms. A petite woman, older than me but younger than Mom, she was very friendly with an infectious smile and kind eyes. I loved her right away. We chatted over soup and salad and afterwards walked along the pier, taking in the scenary and chatting some more. I found Cousin to be a very strong, inspirational person with a compassionate heart and tender soul. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to meet her, if only for a few fleeting hours.

I left our meeting feeling happy and content, and had another 3 hour commute to drive 20 miles to pick up Sister. I had planned on seeing a movie that afternoon, but it didnt quite work out that way. Ah well...such is life. I wasnt about to jinx my happy vacation buzz over missing "Inception".

On Friday afternoon, I hooked up with my friend J, who has worked behind-the-scenes on various WB shows for years. She invited me to the WB lot for a private tour. J pulled up in a golf cart after I parked Cosmo, and I jumped in and held on...believe it or not, that was my first ride in a golf cart! I dont know why that should be so surprising or even noteworthy, but it would seem that I should have had at least one ride in a golf cart before now, but maybe I'm just boring that way.

As we drove around the lot, J pointed out various points of interest, giving me a history of the lot and the inside scoop on some of the buildings and sets. She highlighted various features, particularly how most of the buildings on the lot can double as movie sets. In other words, the office workers could show up to work one day and discover their office building is suddenly serving double duty as a high school or a hospital!

Before you ask, I didnt see too many celebrities other than Simon Baker (quite the handsome fellow he was!)

I really loved this part of the trip...not just because I got a private tour by an insider, but I was able to spend some time getting to know J. I've actually blogged about her before; as a newer friend whom I had only chatted with online, and met briefly at Chris' show on Monday, it was a real pleasure getting to know the person behind the tweets. She is a wonderful human being and I am so glad to consider her a real friend!

That night, J, Chris and I went to Genghis Cohen for dinner. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know both J and Chris on a more personal level and I feel that we really connected as friends. Dinner was pretty tasty too! Both of them said they considered Genghis to have the best Chinese food in L.A. and I can agree with that (albeit without having much to compare it to). The menu was diverse, with selections for just about every palette and dietary restriction. The service left a little to be desired, but they made up for it with a free drink for J (who apparently is a frequent visitor).

As we were finishing up dinner, Chris said "I think that's Don Rickles over there. Is Don Rickles still alive?" I said "Where is he sitting?" Chris informed me he was behind me, three tables to the right. I looked over my shoulder and sure was the legend himself! And he's OLD...very, very old. But very much alive. :)

My vacation was winding down, with the final weekend upon us, so it was important for me to spend as much time with Sister as possible. My relationship with my sister has historically been a loving and respectful one. Certainly we've had our differences, but I do consider her to be one of my best friends, someone whom I confide in when I cant confide in anyone else. She's always been there for me, and I try to always be there for her. We fight because we love each other. We each know what buttons to push to get the other going, but that's what sisters are for!

Saturday, as she headed to the gym, I headed to the beach...via Cafe Milan. In my humble opinion, this restaurant/cafe/local hippie watering hole is the best deal for brunch in the L.A. metro area. If you are in the neighborhood, I highly recommend you give it a try. It's a block from the beach, prices are cheap and the food is fresh and fast.

The local color makes Cafe Milan an interesting place indeed. While I was sitting there enjoying my veggie omelette, a disheveled looking older man walked up with a very young woman wearing a very, very short mini skirt. I'm normally not one to judge, but I did catch myself thinking "Why is she with him?" Ashamed, I quickly put all catty thoughts out of my head until I heard them speak: he in thickly accented Euro-English and she with a heavily-nasaled American Princess accent. I dont recall exactly what they said (other than it involved soy milk) but I do clearly remember her saying "I'm SORRY! I just dont understand what you are saying!". Now I had to wonder why HE was with HER!

After my morning repast, I headed to the beach and laid down in the sand with another book. Soon a woman dressed in yoga pants, a hoodie, and expensive shades walked up and handed me a postcard inviting me to a local woman's Bible study group. She thought I would be interested in attending. Why, I dont know...clearly, this woman has never met me before. But I accepted the card and used it as a bookmark.

Yes, I am going to hell.

That afternoon, Sister, her man and I headed to Malibu to the Getty Villa. A small museum dedicated to Greek and Roman artifacts, staged in an Italian Villa on the Malibu hillside, it was a glorious way to wile away the day. After spending the afternoon amongst the Antiquities, we headed back to Hollywood for Movie Night at the Hollywood Cemetary. As we were early, we stopped at Intelligentsia for coffee. In all honesty, my reasoning for wanting to stop for coffee at Intelligentsia was purely for "research purposes". I had been told that, in spite of the fact it is frequented by a certain young Hollywood actor, it was "damn good coffee". Being from Seattle, I was skeptical. Yes, I am a coffee snob, but not without cause! Everywhere I have traveled in the past 10 years have coffee houses that fall far short of my caffeinated expectations. I couldnt believe that this little coffeehouse in West Hollywood was going to have better coffee than my personal Seattle java haunt: Zeitgeist Coffee.

Walking into the place, the ambience brought me right back to Italy. It was a gorgeous venue with lovely blue and white tile and marble countertops. Ordering the coffee proved to be a bit clumsy as I have a certain way that I have become used to ordering my double-tall non-fat latte, and the coffee-speak is just different outside Seattle. Not to mention, Intelligentsia does not have nonfat milk and I had to settle for 2%. The horror!

Admittingly, the coffee was good although not *DAMN good*...and they get points for creating a very cool environment. But it just isnt Zeitgeist.

After our break, we headed to the Hollywood Cemetary for "High Noon". Some people would think it a bit creepy to watch movies in a cemetary within spitting distance of the the dearly departed. I thought it was pretty cool...knowing that Marilyn Monroe, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks were just steps away. The atmosphere was jovial and not in the least bit creepy. The ultimate Hollywood experience!

The final day - Sunday - came all too soon. We got up early and headed to brekkie at Swinger's. Tasty and filling, the whole grain banana pancakes were delicious...and I usually dont like banana pancakes and not entirely sure why I ordered them in the first place, but Im glad I did! :)

After hopping on the PCH, we headed North to Malibu Lagoon State Park so that J and bf could take a surfing lesson. There were so many surfers in the water, it looked like a gathering of seals! As I'm unable to partake in most water sports due to an unfortunate defect in my inner ear (my big disappointment in life), I watched from dry land while Sister and her bf surfed...or in Sister's case, attempted to surf. She did an awesome job though and actually made it up a few times! So proud of her!

Heading further north on the PCH, we hit Neptune's Net for lunch. Being from the East Coast I was a bit skeptical that this roadside seafood joint was going to measure up. I'd heard some pretty good reviews though and felt I had to give it a try. I was amazed at the number of bikers in attendance; Harleys parked on both sides of the road by the dozens. When you walk in and line up, you are routed by the refrigerators to grab your drinks before ordering at the counter. The fridges were stocked high with 40s and supersize bottles of soda, water and juice. God bless the U.S.A.!

Again - totally not disappointed. I had the lobster roll...the first lobster roll I've had outside New Hampshire in, I'm pretty sure, *EVER*. Very tasty, even if it was served on a sour dough roll!

At this point, the only thing left to do was to take me to the airport. The drive to Long Beach was pretty uneventful. Driving into the airport, Sister's guy asked me which airline I was flying so they could pull up to the right door. I assured him that wouldnt be a problem, seeing as how the terminal had only one door leading to the check-in stations. Pulling up to the white zone, I noted the time...two hours before take-off. At any other airport, this might be just enough time to make it through security and to the gate. At LGB, I had enough time to walk back to L.A. and return to the airport and still make it to the gate with an hour to spare.

No worries...I had some blogging to do... ;)

Monday, July 26, 2010

My own personal L.A. Story, Pt. 2

The rest of my vacation was relatively calm compared to how it began. That being said, it was still an eventful week. Even as I write this, two days after returning home, I still feel the pangs of that kind of exhaustion that only comes from total relaxation and breaking away from the chaos of everyday life.

Monday was a very relaxed day; I slept in till about 9 before waking up feeling energized and ready to hit the beach. Sister lives about 3 blocks away from the beach, so I could walk it easily. Even tho I still had the camping funk on me, I opted to forego a shower until I came back from sunning myself. Say what you will, but I was not feeling compelled to expend energy on such mundane tasks as showering when the ocean was beckoning me to its shore!

After a quick coffee and croissant at the local cafe, I hiked the eighth of a mile to the beach, found a spot and laid there for the next three hours, reading and soaking up the sun. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack my SPF 55! In between chapters, I would sit up and look out at the waves crashing against the sand, watching children run in and out of the water. The ocean has always had a pull for me; with the exception of maybe 5 years out of my life, I have always lived within a 2 hour drive of the beach. As I sat there, I did what I often do when gazing at the waves and looked out toward the horizon, letting my mind wander; meditating about life and wondering where...where in the world was he. "He" meaning that one person that is supposed to complete me. Ever since I was a little girl, I've pondered this puzzling question that seems to be without answer. Somehow staring into the ocean prompts me to have these thoughts, wondering where the love of my life he on the other side somewhere, aimlessly wandering the planet, perhaps looking across at me, wondering where I am?

And then I realized I was getting awfully close to sun stroke and decided it was a good idea to head home for a much needed shower and nap! I wanted to be completely refreshed that night to see my friend Chris Dallman, who was performing at the Hotel Cafe in West Hollywood. Sister was home by 7 and we took off for the show, her new boyfriend in tow. We got there right in the nick of time, as Chris was taking the stage. In true form, his performance was stellar! Chris is a natural storyteller and his love of music and self-effacing attitude make him likable and endearing. A handsome man, he's easy on the eyes as well. His husband is a lucky guy! ;)

After Chris' performance, we went outside to say hi and thank him for an awesome show. It was there that we met up with a bunch of folks I had met online. As you know from prior posts, I am an avid Tweeter (Twitterer?) and have made the acquaintance of several "tweeps" from around the world, many of whom were in town for Comic-Con. Although polite and friendly, I was a little put off at how stand-offish some of them appeared to be. There were a couple exceptions, but generally speaking, there just wasnt that same...effervesence... that existed in our online communiques. Stands to reason I suppose...people are generally different online than they are "IRL" (that's cyber-speak for "In Real Life"). Maybe they were just shy.

After attempting to make conversation for a few minutes, we bid the tweeps good evening and safe travels on their way to Comic-Con and headed back into the bar, where Sister, Sister's boyfriend and I polished off a couple beverages before heading to Toi Thai in West Hollywood for some late night nosh. Tasty, but indistinguishable from other Thai food establishments that I so often frequent in Seattle save for the giant papier mache dragon hanging from the ceiling.

The next morning, I got up at the crack of dawn so that I could have use of Cosmo while Sister was at work. We took a shortcut through Laurel Canyon and out the other side to the Valley, where she works as an Assistant Director on a popular NBC series. Her stage was in an industrial section of Van Nuys, surrounded by construction company offices and auto auction places...many of which, she informed me, are covers for porn studios. Apparently "Nights of Neon" is not just a purveyor of fine neon products...

After dropping Sister at her workplace, I made my way back to Playa Del Rey, where I took a little nap before heading out to Mecca: Amoeba Records in Hollywood. A little known fact about me is that I collect vinyl records. Or rather, I've just started to collect vinyl for the first time since I was in high school. A lifelong avid music lover, I have recently accepted the fact that nothing can ever replace the look, feel and sound of real, honest-to-goodness vinyl LPs. I'd been on the hunt for a couple of hard-to-find discs that had eluded me in Seattle. Chris had turned me on to Amoeba Records. I understood from him and from others it was "The Place" for vinyl in L.A. and I was not disappointed. Not only did I manage to locate the albums I was looking for in the first place, I found some other treasures. 7 vinyl LPs and 1 DVD cost me a grand total of $34. And the cashier gave me a bunch of free swag...audiophiles need to stick together!

Soon, it was time to head out and pick up Sister. Not to put too fine a point on it, but L.A. traffic pretty much sucks. I decided to take off around 5PM, figuring that I should make it to her workplace in time to pick her up at 7. Two hours later I was still sitting in the gnarliest traffic I had ever seen on I-405! I gotta tell you....after a week of sitting in L.A. traffic, I will *never* complain about Seattle traffic ever again!

Wednesday was another beach day. It was also the day that I decided the L.A. public transit system had to be a more preferable option to sitting in traffic. After my morning visit to the Church of Neptune, I decided that I would take the bus down the road to Marina del Rey for lunch. It was only 3 miles away...couldnt be that hard, could it? Two buses and an hour later, I arrived at my destination. I should have clued in when I texted Sister about the adventure I was having, and she replied with "if you end up in Compton, text me right away". Too late now...I was already in Marina and needed to find my way back, but not before I had the yummiest burger ever at The Counter. (Note to self - must look into franchise opportunity...)

As it always seems to happen when I ride the bus, I end up engaging in conversation with perfect strangers. In this case, I met a woman about my mother's age, maybe a bit younger, who was coming home from a doctor's appointment. She flopped down on the bench next to me as I was waiting on the "Big Blue Bus" and asked me how my day was going. No sooner did I get the words out that I was having a splendid day, she began to regale me with the tale of her aching back and how she was too nervous to be honest with her doctor about how much pain she was in as she didnt want to have surgery. This led to a drawn out soliloquy of how she couldnt find a job, didnt have a car, may have to move out of her apartment in Playa, hadnt had a date in 23 years and couldnt lose weight to help her back problem because she had to rely on donated canned goods from her church for sustenance - all of which she attributed to her back pain. In spite of this ongoing tale of woe I found her to be completely charming, her smile contagious, and since it turned out we were going the same direction, I stayed close to ensure that I got on the right bus.

As we waited on the second leg of the trip, we sat outside a liquor store. At this point, my "travel buddy" had made several comments about how thirsty and hot she was, but also how she couldnt afford to buy a cold drink as she had no money. I went into the liquor store and purchased a couple bottles of cold water. Handing her one, she was both grateful and overtly thankful. For me, it wasnt a big deal...I've purchased many a bottle of water in my day. She considered it to be a "huge gift" and thanked me again and again. She then continued to confide in me about her life, taking care to ask me questions about my life. She told me how she had considered becoming a nun, and perhaps she would still do so as her options were otherwise limited. She pondered if the local convent would accept her if she couldnt kneel and pray, due to her back problems, but perhaps they would let her sit and pray. I assured her they likely would.

This woman was at once endearing and somewhat captivating, a reminder that even when things are at their worst, life still must go on and one must play whatever hand they are dealt. She got off the bus before me. I bid her farewell, wishing her good luck and watched her hobble up the street as the bus continued to the next stop, which was mine.

I hope she is well...

To be continued...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My own personal L.A. Story, Pt. 1

What a week!

I've spent the past 8 days in (or near) the City of Angels, hanging with my younger sister, spending the majority of my time being a beach bum. This has been the single most eventful vacation I had ever had...and I truly hope it will continue in the very near future.

My journey began a week and a day ago as I arrived into Long Beach Airport on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon. Having just left behind the chilly morning mist in Seattle, my Levis and long sleeve top were ill-suited for the weather. My flight was nearly 45 minutes early, as I learned when I texted my sister and she was still a ways from the airport (e.g. - had not yet left her place). She told me to grab a cocktail at the bar and she would text me when she arrived. If you have ever been to LGB you will understand just why that is amusing. This is clearly the airport that time forgot and not only is there no bar in the terminal, the baggage claim is outside in a covered area of the entryway, cooled by giant fans. One gets the sense they are arriving to an exotic island nation in the Caribbean and not the rundown city of Long Beach.

I grabbed a Vitamin Water from the coffee cart outside and found a spot in the shade in an effort to keep cool. A short while later, Sister drove up in her eco-friendly Prius, a bright orange kayak latched to the roof. Hugs and smiles were exchanged. She informed me the kayak's name was Carrot (of course it was!) and he would be accompanying us to the River Kern, where I had reluctantly agreed to spend the weekend camping, while Sister kayaked down the "Killer Kern". What the hell, I thought...I'm turning 40 soon and it's about time I stepped outside my comfort zone. As my brother pointed out though, there is stepping outside your comfort zone, then there is making a long jump outside your comfort zone; as my idea of roughing it to this point was a stay in a Doubletree, I was pretty much trekking through unchartered territory.

After checking the ties on the kayak, Sister and I took off for Points North. She pointed out that we should be conscious of the kayak, as even though it was securly attached to the roof of Cosmo (the Prius), we just need to make sure the straps dont loosen. Up the 5 we went, chatting amicably and getting caught up. At a point midway on the Grapevine, I noticed the wind whistle around the kayak changed pitch. No sooner had I generated the thought did we hear a *thunk* and both of us looked over to find Carrot hanging off the side of Cosmo. Ever the laid-back, chill California girl, my sister assured me there were no worries and she would just pull over and re-attach the boat. The words weren't out of her mouth when Carrot took off and landed gloriously in the right lane on I-5. Sister still had not realized this when I told her she needed to stop now.

"Why? Where is the boat"

"In the ROAD"


Cosmo barely came to a stop when she leapt out and ran down the shoulder of the 5, towards oncoming traffic in her flippy mini and Havis, waving at the semi barreling towards Carrot. Fortunately the driver saw her, saw Carrot, quickly surmissed the situation and hauled ass into the next lane, while slowing down in an effort to slow the traffic around him. This enabled Sister to leap into the lane, grab Carrot and drag him back onto the shoulder.

Mind you, this all happened in the span of about 30 seconds.

While Sister hitched the 50-lb/6ft boat onto her 5'2" frame and started walking back towards the car, I began to pick up the pieces of the now destroyed roof rack that had essentially fallen apart while we were driving through high winds on an elevated portion of I-5. If you have never driven the Grapevine, it's a long, winding section of Interstate that traverses mountains and valleys for several miles outside L.A., towards Bakersfield. The wind that day was much stronger than we thought and was the likely culprit for sending the kayak flying in the first place.

To Sister's credit, she held it together. She went into crisis mode and immediately attempted to reassmble the destroyed roof rack. When it became obvious that was a lost cause, we attempted to fit Carrot into Cosmo, around all the camping gear and my luggage.

Want to know happens when two blond sisters try and force a kayak into a Prius?

The rear view mirror is ripped away from the windshield and (literally) hanging from a thread of a wire. We didnt think about this as we yelled "PUSH" from the rear of the Prius.

In a situation such as this, all one can do is laugh. Or curl up into a tight ball, beating your fists about your head, wailing for it to stop. We chose the former option.

Eventually, AAA was called and we got assistance with getting Carrot and Cosmo to the next exit so that we could regroup and figure out our next move. After emptying the vehicle, CAREFULLY pushing Carrot into the Prius and repacking everything in and around the kayak (duh!), we had enough room for me to drive and Sister to lay in the fetal position for the remaining 2 hours of our journey to the River Kern.

By the time we arrived at our campsite, it was close to 11PM. Sister was in no way deterred. She expertly set up the tent, with all the amenities fit for a restful night sleep (as restful as one can get in 85 and humid weather in the middle of the Sequoia National Park!) She even built a campfire and got us set up for roasted marshmallows. She's a rock star, that Sister of mine!

As there was a nice, albeit large, Filipino family sharing the campground around us, I inquired as to where I could change out of my Levis. Sister pointed out that it was pitch black and I should just change wherever I was standing.



What I didnt realize was that 6 feet away was an SUV filled with Filipino teenage boys who opted to sleep in the truck, rather than under the stars. I'm pretty sure I heard "Take it off, baby!" in Tagalog as I was trying to change out of my shirt!

The next morning arrived early, burning hot & humid. After packing up the campsite and indulging in a yummy brekkie in town, Sister and her kayaking buddies took off and left me with Cosmo. I had been informed that the Giant Sequoias were just 10 miles up the road, so I thought I would check them out.

40 miles later, I finally stumbled upon the Trail of 100 Giants. It was a nice mid-day hike through the woods, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Making my way back into town, I camped out in the Park by the river where I was eventually recruited to shuttle Kayakers back to their put-in location (kayak-speak for where that day's run began - in this case 10 miles away), but was more than happy to oblige.

Eventually I met up with Sister as she finished her final run; we drove home while she basked in the afterglow of the River. I was secretly jealous of this love affair she was having and really enjoyed listening to her stories on the way back to her home in Playa, and the start to the second part of my vacation.


To be continued...